Monday, 22 October 2012

Now a two-cat household once more.

For most of the year this has been, at least to some extent, a three-cat household.  The chap on the left turned up in March, at first just hanging around and looking plaintively in the window at us, but eventually very actively trying to move in.  Since I already have two cats, a third cat was really not an option.  A third cat that was semi-feral and an intact Tom was definitely not a good idea in a household with two neutered males.  As a result I tried to discourage him  from coming in and when that didn't work, I started trying to rehome him.   

I contacted our local branch of the Cats Protection League for advice and was told that unfortunately they have a fairly long waiting list for rehoming, especially for adult cats in no immediate danger, which was the case with this guy.   They provided me with a supply of paper collars, which I put my phone number on, in the hope that if he did live somewhere they would contact me.  No one responded.  A quick visit to the vet confirmed that he was not microchipped, un-neutered and in good health, if a bit skinny.  I treated him for fleas and ticks and wormed him, then let him go again.

It turns out he was not only quite determined to move in with me (and mark his territory accordingly - I can recommend Urine Off) he was also trying to move into another house three doors along - but with three cats they could not take him on either.  My neighbour found him upstairs, curled up on her spare bed looking like he owned the place.  Likewise, he once tried to climb up on my bed to sleep in the middle of the night - to the surprise of both me and my other cats, who were already there.  He's clearly a cat who has known a home at some point.

Over the summer he continued to hang around and I provided a bowl of food at the back doorstep when I saw him.  So that we had no more marking issues and to provide my own cats with some peace, I kept the cat flat closed.  A few weeks ago the Cats Protection League called me back to say they had a space available and inevitably he was nowhere to be seen for several weeks.  Last Monday morning, however, he was waiting at the back doorstep with my two, asking to be fed.

So this week, I have taken my life (or at least my soft furnishings) into my hand and left the catflap open again for the first time since spring.  Sure enough we started getting through a lot more food again, so on Friday night I left the catflap so that the cats could get in, but not out.  Yesterday at lunchtime I was sitting at the table when our friend here sauntered out from under the futon in the family room.  Here he is looking a bit annoyed at having discovered he couldn't get out (I'd also just treated him for fleas and ticks, which was easier than it is with one of my permanent cats).

He spent the rest of Saturday locked in the bathroom, to keep him in and away from the others (and there was nothing he could mark in there).  He had food, water and an old rug tucked by the radiator.  On Sunday morning he happily climbed into the carrier when I put him in front of it (again, not like my own cats!) and I took him off to the wonderfully appropriately named town of Fishcross.  He's settled into Cats Protection League's rehoming centre there, and they'll make sure he has his vaccinations, is neutered and get him back to health.

We never named him, so yesterday he acquired the name Barney.  It's appropriate in a way - I've just about had a barney with one of the neighbours over feeding him a couple of times!  It's been worth it, he'll need someone with a bit of patience, but he shows all the signs of wanting to be someone's pet.  Hopefully he will have a home sometime soon.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Maps. And Volcanoes

I've always been a bit in love with maps.  As a child I used to spend holidays away with my grandparents on their yacht (no, we're not that posh, it was a cramped sailing yacht with really basic facilities) and I remember spending hours looking at the charts with my grandfather.  I still credit him with instilling a near infallible sense of direction in me.  I could navigate with a chart by the age of 8, yet somehow the maps and charts part of the Girl Guide syllabus prevented me getting my silver award at 12, but that was because our leader couldn't assess it.  But I digress.

Last week I took a night off from studying to go to a talk by Mike Parker, who used to present Radio 4's On the Map (which I wish they would repeat).  The topic was national identity and mapping, which obviously links into the independence debate which is raging here at the moment.  It was a really entertaining talk and as a result I have bought Mike's book, Map Addict: a tale of obsession, fudge and the Ordnance Survey.  He even used a few of my favourite maps.  If he's speaking near you, I recommend him, although I suspect the subject matter was tailored to a Scottish audience.

Inevitably it got me thinking about my favourite maps and I have finally decided what to do with the vast bare wall of my hall.  Maps.  First up was one I have been looking for for ages.  As it happened I was telling my friend Morag (another Scottish-Kiwi) about it as we waited for Mike's talk and googled it on my phone.  There it was at the National Library of Australia - I'd been looking for it in NZ libraries and archives.  I now have a poster sized one ready to go on my wall.  It's German geologist Ferdinand von Hochstetter's map of the volcanoes of the Auckland Isthmus.   Drawn in 1859, the map shows the extent of all the cones, craters and lava flows of the Auckland field before they were quarried and built on.

It's a fairly frightening thought that almost a million people now live in the area covered by the map (the city now extends further to the north and west, away from the volcanic field.  That's the city centre in the middle and I grew up near the three crater lakes/basins on the northern shore of the northern of the two harbours.

The Auckland Volcanic Field consists of at least 50 volcanoes, either as cones or craters, and it's monogenetic, meaning each volcano usually erupts once (they did find a second eruption site in the Panmure basin, which is the large basin to the right of the centre of the map, a few years ago).    The most recent eruption was only 600 or so year ago and created Rangitoto the large island at the top of the map.  It was apparently bigger than all the previous eruptions put together.

The Auckland volcanic field is active, just dormant.

Oh and thumbs down to the University of Edinburgh, for closing the accessible entrance to the building Mike's lecture was held in.

Friday, 12 October 2012

The Open University

One of my current time sinks and the reason I haven't been the world's most prolific blogger is that I have been doing an MA in Social Sciences via the Open University. The OU, as it's known, is a rather wonderful institution which was set up to enable those who missed out on higher education first time round a chance to study at home. It was immortalised in the film Educating Rita and one of its famous alumni is the British comedian Lenny Henry. In the early years, it used a mix of printed materials and middle of the night TV  broadcasts. The latter have largely been replaced by DVDs and online resources but their TV and radio presence remains in the many excellent programmes they co-produce for BBC TV and radio.

 Having had a fairly directionless experience of higher education (three and a half years of study, mostly in Scandinavian Studies, at three different universities and an FE College), I enrolled as an OU student in 2002 and started my first course in early 2003. Five years on, I graduated with BSc in Social Sciences with Social Policy with first class honours. It was a turbulent five years - my older son was born and then died that first year and the small Scottish boy came along in my third year.  Here we are at my graduation in 2008.   He'd just recovered from chicken pox and we both needed haircuts.

I'd caught the OU bug and 18 months later I signed up for the MA in Social Sciences.  It's been a bit tougher than the BSc  The work is more challenging, of course and life through some more curve-balls at me (in a case of history does repeat, my mother died, four months into the first course), but here I am, something approximating two-thirds of the way through.  Perhaps a bit more.  I've passed three courses and have the exam for the fourth on Monday.

My last course is a double credit one, so it will complete the MA.  It's Understanding Children's Development and Learning - officially part of the MA in Education and a bit of a new topic but the materials I have so far look very interesting and hopefully it will be useful to me at work.  My current course has been a bit of a hectic one - three assessments due within 8 weeks over the summer holidays, so the slightly slower pace of an 11 month long course (6 assessments including the final one - no exam) is a bit of a relief.

One of the things that I like about the OU is that there are intermediate qualifications along the way.  I've already gathered up a Post Graduate Certificate and if I pass the exam on Monday I'll have the Post Graduate Diploma in Social Sciences.  I can't quite figure out if the last course will give me a PG Cert in Education (as well as counting towards the MA) but if I do one more course, I will definitely qualify for a PG Diploma in Education.

But I won't be doing that.  No, I won't.  This is it.  No more studying.  I'll be glad to get my life back.

Although, some undergrad modules, just for fun, might appeal.  Maybe some French.  Or history.

Be warned.  The OU is addictive.

Now, I'd better get on with studying and stop procrastinating!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Those breast cancer "awareness raising" memes

It's that time of year again and the breast cancer memes are coming out. Your shoe size, the colour of your bra or how long it takes to do your hair are not going to raise anything other than a snigger. If you want to raise awareness of breast cancer, link to something informative, that increases women's knowledge of the signs of breast cancer (or other cancers). 

I'm going to start with this ad by Elaine C Smith which is running on Scottish TV at the moment. The message is to look for more than a lump - and that's a very important one. Oh and for non-Scots, she says "three kids later ones", not freaky...

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Technology is getting disabled people back into work

This article on the BBC News website was brought to my attention by a friend who has fairly serious ME. My first reaction was anger, a sort of slightly pent up anger that has been brewing all summer. The Paralympics presented me with very mixed feelings. The achievements of the athletes are phenomenal, just as those of their Olympian compatriots are. What angered me, though, was that they perpetuated a discourse on disability that focuses on a narrow range of disabilities and that much of the coverage of people like Oscar Pistorius also focuses on the way technology can "eliminate" disability. I'm a fan of technology and it helps a lot but no expensive titanium wheelchair will help if, for example, you turn up to an event to discover the only accessible access to the building has been locked up because it's past 6pm so the only access is via 20 steps. Yes, this happened to me last week at a major Scottish university. Presumably all disabled students should be tucked up in their beds, rather than attending the lectures taking place that night. If I see that picture of Pistorius and the wee girl with blades, with the "the only disability is a bad attitude" quote, I may become homicidal. The guy at the start of this article elicits the same reactions. His hi-tech legs did not get him back into work - they got him back rock climbing (which was how he lost his original legs) which is all well and good but he was clearly an extremely athletic person with or without his lower legs. I'm glad technology can help disabled people - I'm very much hoping that one day someone will come up with something that will help me. My Orthopedic Consultant sent me away with "the good news they are doing clever things with carbon fibre, so that might be an option soon". But I am very much aware that not all disabilities can be overcome with technology. The article improves as it goes on. The section at the end, which does mention the ways attitudes to disabled employees need to be overcome, makes some good points, but it still focuses on ways disabled people need to use technology to navigate the workplace, not ways that the workplace can become more accessible to disabled people.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Sometimes, this disability thing feels expensive

This post is brought to you, mostly, by the ominous squeak coming from one of my crutches.

I've blogged before about my crutches. Before I could buy the whizzy spotted ones, one of my first pair of folding crutches, the fetching red ones from the picture with my son, had it's elastic cable overstretched and rattled as a result. This was hard on my wrists, so I ended up replacing them. The replacements are 20 months old now and it looks like their time is up. I have another pair that are fine - a pair of fixed red ones - and they're actually the most comfortable. But the folding ones are my day to day crutches because it's hand to be able to tuck them away and folding helps that. They're essential for travelling as well. Although they only fold in half, if I shorten them as well they're short enough to strap to a bag (for example, it means I can use one crutch, attach the other to the front of a wheeled suitcase and walk short distances like that). It looks like there's a few choices. I've noticed that the range of crutches available here is improving although the prices still don't compare well with what they pay in France. My first two pairs were Vilgo ones from Chic Aid Crutches.

They seem to have another brand for sale now (on the left there), which I have to say look great but are expensive (£145 EACH) and I am not sure I fancy having to adjust them, both, to the same length, in two different places, every time I need to stow them somewhere. Even if they would hang on a table, which looks very nifty indeed.  Maybe when I am feeling a bit richer!

I am a bit perplexed by the picture of one on a bike. Bike-riding crutches user seems a niche market!

So, I think I'll give these OPO ones a try.  That's them on the right, and they are similarly priced to the Vilgos. That's another £80-ish quid but at least I'll get the VAT back. Just as well I'm gainfully employed. Meanwhile, a bad experience with an awful borrowed wheelchair at the SECC (who also charged me £6 to use the disabled car park, as it happens) in Glasgow has left me contemplating buying a lightweight folding wheelchair for occasional use. I don't think that's going to be cheap, somehow.

Meanwhile, if anyone knows someone who uses just one crutch, I have a growing collection of quite expensive single crutches I am happy to pass on.  On top of all those mentioned here, I am down to one burgundy (same as the grey in the previous post on the matter) the other has cracked.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

I'm on a diet - can I still be a feminist?

I've been on a diet, WeightWatchers specifically, for about 6 weeks now.  I've done WW before, before I had the small Scottish boy, and it worked well for me. I've now lost 4kg (that's almost 9lb) so clearly it still works for me.  I like their system and they've made some good tweaks to it since I last did it.  And if I am realistic, I need the discipline of turning up once a week and getting my card stamped in order to stick with it.

The basics are, you get a set number of points per day, in my case that was 28 until this week, it's now 27 (and will drop again to the minimum 26 at some point).  You also get 49 weekly points, which you can use for extras during the week (that's new).  If you do exercise, you earn additional points.  I've mostly used no more than my daily points and any exercise points I earn, but last week I went a bit mad and had a Domino's pizza one night so dipped into a big chunk of my weekly points.  In the old system I would have spent the week feeling dreadful because I'd gone over my limit.  Now, it was a case of "oh well, there go the weekly points" and no guilt.  I like that.  I should maybe splurge more often - I lost 1kg.

Foods have a point value, the formula calculates that based on the protein, fat, fibre and carbohydrate content.  Almost all fruit and vegetables have 0 points, so you're encouraged to fill up on those.  Nothing is off limits, but that Domino's pizza was a whole day's points, on it's own.  And that was with the low fat cheese.   Back in the old days you jotted points down in a notebook and looked foods up in wee notebooks.  Inevitably, there's an app for it now.
That's the main screen you use - click on Add to Tracker and you can look up the food and add the required quantity.  I don't usually bother to add 0 point vegetables - so that green Thai curry also had a whole load of green beans in it.  The yogurt is for dessert.
It also has a pretty graph to show what you've lost - that 7 there means I've passed 7lbs.  Although the app and website accommodate those of us who use metric, the reward system is still using imperial.  

I'm happy to be losing weight, mostly because I was aware that carrying extra was not helping my mobility.  Or indeed my hypermobility - extra weight puts extra strain on joints.  It's not really about looking slim and my target of 75kg won't make me slim.  It's just about making myself a bit healthier. There's also the fact that I was going to have to replace most of my trousers if I didn't lose a bit!  

Weight loss and in particular "the diet industry" is hotly contested amongst feminists.  So for some of my friends, I know, I am a bad feminist for not only dieting but also for paying my £19.99 a month to an American-based multinational diet company.  I don't think the fact I buy very few of their products redeems me much*.  Kate Harding's Shapely Prose is just one example of many fat acceptance sites.  She makes some very good points and since my aim is to end up a plump size 14-16 at the end of this I'll probably continue to agree with them then.  

But I don't buy that trying to lose some weight necessarily makes you a traitor to the sisterhood.  Even for people whose motivation is to look a bit better in a swimsuit.  There must be some middle ground where we can say "hey, we don't all need to be a size 10" (or 8, or 6, or 0), where we acknowledge that you can be happy and beautiful and yes, healthy, at a whole range of weights but can also be supportive of people who want to be a size or two smaller than they currently are, for whatever reason, rather than publicly castigating them for it.  

Replacing an inflexible hegemony about being slim with an equally rigid hegemony about being fat doesn't do anyone any good.  

*I do admit to rather liking WW's  Chocolate Caramel Wafers, £1 for a pack of 5 at Tesco right now.  They're pretty close to Tunnocks' version but 2 points rather than 4. . 

Saturday, 25 August 2012

More on airports

A good article from the BBC's Frank Gardner on travelling with a wheelchair and some of the problems he has had getting on and off planes.  Frank was paralysed from the waist down when he was shot while reporting in Saudi Arabia about 10 years ago.

I particularly like the shot of Frank wheeling himself across an airport with a walker slung around his neck - even with assistance I've found that sometimes, it's only for me, not anything I might have with me, even my crutches.  I end up balancing a carry on between my feet and two crutches on my lap.

I travel much lighter than most people - very seldom do you see me with a full size carry on, usually I just pack a small backpack with what is needed for the flight and check everything else in.  These days, that's an extra cost I somewhat begrudge.  When we're heading to NZ, though, we usually have a reasonably large backpack each, since we both need at least one change of clothes (I still take an extra change for the small Scottish boy, in case of knocked over drinks on board).  The boy is just about old enough to tow a decent size carry on case, but not when he is tired and grumpy.  Which I think is pretty reasonable for a 7 year old after 19 hours on a plane.

Heathrow Terminal 5, where I was last week, had a really sturdy wheelchair which had room underneath for a full size carry on bag, plus hooks on the back for small bags.  This was great as we hadn't checked anything in, so for once did have a full size cabin bag suitcase on wheels.  I was betting on the small boy pulling it, but at a push I can manage on one crutch for short distances.

They were also more than happy to take me all the way onto my underground train (to Kings Cross, which now has lifts!)  The only drawback was that it wasn't the sort you can wheel yourself, which meant a bit of juggling to get through some of the doors.

I *can* walk but I can't walk as far, nor stand as long, as is usually required in airports.  So wheelchair assistance is a great help, which I use when I need it but not when I don't, but sometimes it could be done a bit better!

Friday, 24 August 2012

Ah, Edinburgh (a rant)

I live just outside Edinburgh and mostly, I love that.  My town has a great character, lovely views of the Forth and reasonable house prices.  My two bedroom flat with a garden would cost two or three times as much in the city itself.  The small Scottish boy goes to a great school which I can literally see out of my front window.  I work 10 minutes away.  I'll write about the town at some point.

Most weekends, I head into Edinburgh to meet up with various members of City Knitty aka "scary queer knitters".  Every other Saturday, we meet up with kids, usually in the museum.  The other weeks we meet on a Sunday, mostly but not always without kids, in a cafe near Fountainbridge.  I also like to go into Edinburgh for other reasons, like shopping, eating out, the cinema or shows.

One of the things people who live elsewhere always say about living in Edinburgh is how great it must be able to go to the Edinburgh Festival (by which they invariable actually mean the Festival Fringe).  The problem is that it is extremely difficult to get to since there is so little parking in the city centre.  Public transport has it's own problems.  I don't do well on buses.  They usually mean long waits at bus stops with either uncomfortable seats or no seats.  They swerve about and judder a lot which leaves me with back pain.  Trains are better, but Edinburgh's train stations are not disabled friendly.  Haymarket lacks lift access to all but one platform.  Waverley has impressive lift access between platforms but as yet no lift access to Princes Street (a level access way used to exist, via a shopping centre, but this is closed off).  The steep, narrow pathway from the platform to Waverley Bridge meets no-one's standard.  I'm surprised not to see wheelchair users piled at the bottom of it.  The only practical way to get from the station to Princes Street at the moment is to take a taxi!

In a few years we will hopefully have trams running down Princes Street, the main shopping street in the New Town, which will be great.  I will be able to leave the car at the park and ride out by the airport and by delivered, comfortably seated and reasonably swiftly, to a stop right outside Marks & Spencer.  In the meantime, tram works just add to the misery.  Princes Street was until recently closed to traffic, for tram rails to be laid for a second time, after the first ones buckled before the trams even ran.  This shifted bus traffic onto George Street and meant all the on-street parking on George Street and a number of adjacent streets, including most of the disabled parking bays, were suspended for the duration.  Dashing (slowly) into the bank one day, I managed to get a parking ticket at a place I'd previously been able to park - poor signage meant I didn't notice the temporary "no loading at any time" signs, though the Council did cancel the ticket when I sent photos of said signage.  Here's the sign.  That's my red car.  Can you see how I managed not to see it?  Oh and that's two tickets - because they managed to issue the first one to the wrong coloured car.

Now, back to the Festival.  It adds even more fun.  Various street events take place, leading to more on-street parking bays being suspended.  In particular, the handiest for the Old Town, at the top of Victoria Street, and those in front of the Museum, in Chambers Street are pretty common targets.  On a recent visit to Chambers Street, the disabled bays by the Museum entrance had been suspended, but none of the other spaces.  Unfortunately, these are narrow spaces, running down the centre of the road (where the old tram tracks ran, as it happens) and I need space to fling two crutches and both legs out before I get out of my seat, so even without a wheelchair they're not practical.

If I do get parked, the town is so full of tourists and people trying to fling fliers in my hand (which hand, I have a crutch in each!) any attempt to get anywhere in the city during the festival is an exercise in frustration.  And endless apologies for having knocked someone round the ankles with a crutch (sometimes, it's not entirely accidental - don't cut up people on crutches!)  You can't pause for a rest without fear of being bowled over.

So, see you in September, Edinburgh.

Is this thing working?

This blog kind of got forgotten for a while there. Since I got back from New Zealand last spring, life has been taken up by a lot of studying and that's left me not in the mood for writing. The end is (sort of) in sight. The hectic round of short papers to take me to the end of my Post Grad Diploma is pretty much over, culminating in having 3 assignments due in 8 weeks over the summer this year. The exam for that course is in mid-October and then I start a long course with a much more relaxed schedule of 5 assignments over 10 months. And then, I am done.

Needless to say we've not stopped travelling. Spring this year saw us using up the airmiles we'd earned from all those trips to NZ with a short break in Dubai. It was winter there, which meant temperatures in the high 20s, just perfect for us. We swam every day in the unheated pool, saw the sights and cruised some shopping malls. Dubai is great for me, if only because of the cheap and plentiful taxis. A real contrast to London or Greece (of which, more later).


We stayed at the Arabian Courtyard in the centre of the older part of town, a few kilometres (or a £5 taxi ride) from the glitzy highrises of Sheikh Zayed Road and the 5* resorts of Jumeirah. I like this part of town though, because you can walk places and it has a bit of life. We were right opposite the old fort, now the city museum. Beyond that is the central mosque, then the old souq and beyond that the creek, where a short abra (open boat) ride takes you to the gold souk. If you want to go further afield, you just hail a taxi. Most of the 'locals' in this area are Indian and Pakistani. Tucked away just behind the central mosque are the city's Sikh and Hindu temples. We spent some time on the creek front watching boats come and go, everything from the ubiquitous abras and dhows to million dollar motorboats.

That area also contains a number of historic buildings, although historic is more akin to NZ's meaning of the word than Scotland's. Like all tourists, we had to demonstrate the fact that some of the doors were on the small side...

I've almost perfected my ability to pose for a photo while hiding the crutches, you'll see.